Little Gitmos Everywhere

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October 17, 2006

When I was a kid, life was simpler on every level.

If you did something stupid, you got hurt, and you learned not to do it again, or to try a better way. No one that I knew ever fell out of a tree or put their eye out. We had a basic survival instinct and some personal freedom, which I treasured.

I was not a free kid. I went to Catholic school, church and I washed mountains of dishes, and I mean washed them and dried them by hand. There was no such thing in our neighborhood as an automatic dishwasher. (Well, the youngest kid was automatically the dishwasher.) Barring property damage, and within certain parameters, my playtime was largely unregulated.

My Dad worked hard, but he didn't really sweat small stuff. He couldn't have cared less about the Joneses' cars or furniture. Mostly he didn't want to be bothered with 'kid stuff' either, but his indifference, to me, meant freedom, and freedom is freedom. There's nothing else like it. I loved everything about it. It made me feel alive. It still does.

There's a deep down excitement mixed with bliss that only comes from going after what revs your engine (forgive me, I grew up in the shadow of the motor city). Excitement must be a little fear and some uncertainty; the challenge of not knowing for sure if you can actually do what it is you'd like to try doing, but being free to try and free to fail. Life was an internal experience, based on your knowledge and skill so far. We were learning all the time, at least when we weren't in school.

We took some calculated risks and sometimes we got hurt. When you did, you'd go home and into the bathroom to try to stop the bleeding yourself. You'd clean up your wound as well as you could with Kleenex, water and Band-aids. We didn't die. Any crying out would attract the unwanted attention of your Mother and possibly the sound of the dreaded words, 'it's time to stay in anyway.' If you made a big fuss about being injured, your Mom would put iodine or mercurochrome, or some other horror on your open wound and you'd be sorry and stained for days. In summer we played outdoors all day long. We made damn sure we didn't hurt ourselves bad enough for Mom to have to call Dad at work to take you to the emergency room or you were really in trouble then, and that was due to Dad's wrath, not your discomfort level. No police or emergency room personnel questioned your parents about abuse, ever.

There were no parents dragging children to structured activities run by adults. My Mother, like most, didn't even have a car. Luckily for us, adults didn't want to be bothered with children's games. Mom was busy hanging laundry outdoors. Dad mowed the lawn and painted the garage. Luckily, girls were excused from lawn mowing ' you might put your eye out by a flying stone, mysteriously boomeranging back at you from underneath the power mower. It was understood that a man with an eye out could still get a woman, but a girl with an eye out, no way. She'd be a burden to her parents for life.

We didn't sit around doing nothing. We played kickball in the street. If an adult had tried to interfere to make it 'fair,' they would have destroyed the order emerging from chaos. It started with an idea. We picked teams ourselves, which were just about perfectly matched, making for close games, even though we all played to win.

It wasn't any sense of generosity that made the teams well matched. The two best players were captains. Not because they were superior beings, but because no one wanted them on the same team. (The word for that would have been 'slaughter,' which wasn't fun, and didn't happen too often.) Each side got one pick at a time, and you picked the best you could. The youngest and/or worst players got picked last, which was only an honest estimation of your value as a player in that particular sport, not a personal insult about your worth as a human being. If someone got hurt or called home in the middle of a game, perfectly suited adjustments were instantly concocted and agreed upon by all to continue the game, because it was fun. Sure, everyone would have liked an 'edge,' but if you got one this time, it'd go against you the next time, and that wouldn't be fun.

We knew The Rules like breathing in and out and enforced them ruthlessly. Sometimes the rules were adjusted, depending on who was available to play on any given day. Otherwise, one half of an inning could go on for longer than we had time left to play before dark. When we needed to fine-tune The Rules, the changes were articulated by older kids, but agreed to by everyone because we all knew what was fair. Our assent was not voiced, but displayed by resumption of the game. There was no use wasting precious game time on pompous formalities.

Everyone was a referee. If someone had consistently played dirty, they would have been ousted, but no one ever did. Being part of the magic of having fun and being free to try your best within agreed upon parameters was too important. We regulated ourselves based upon a mutual benefit. 'The Virtue of Selfishness,' as Ayn Rand put it.

Playing it safe

Life was not ideal when I was a kid. It was limited and painful in a lot of ways. It had its vice, but it had its virtue. Even though it was by default, I had unstructured time and opportunity for reflection and self-direction.

Today there are no kids playing kickball in the street. Kickball is as outdated now as the game of 'kick the can' that my parent's generation played. This is only natural; times change. But the passing of pick-up games, though unnoticed, is lamentable. They've been wiped out by a silent killer, progress, and no one at the CDC is looking for a cure.

Neither parents nor children today know what kids are missing. Now everything is based upon the use of force for achieving social goals. This is what turns innovative, dynamic people who invented the light bulb, the assembly line, the airplane and the home computer into sheeple, who 'baaah' obediently when out-of-control tyrants in Washington take away their rights to privacy, freedom of speech, and to a trial by jury in a court of law with the stroke of a pen.

Children are now rushed from one activity to the next, with nothing other than a vague emptiness signifying that something is missing. So often there's just an unexamined sadness in their eyes. After spending all day in government day prisons (school), they down nutritionally void, happy, dollar meals in the SUV on the way to organized activities. They may never know the thrill of working freely with others toward a common goal, it's not in their job description. They lose trust in their own dreams and organizing ability and find the thrill of creating something exciting out of nothing an odd, suspicious stranger. They learn to wait for someone else to spoon feed them ideas, to make things fair for everyone, to make Johnny play nice. No wonder so many teens are promiscuous, depressed and violent.

Eichmanns Here, Eichmanns There

When I was a kid, you didn't need a $10 pass to walk your licensed dog in the park like we do today--the one which must be noticeably displayed within two feet of said dog, on a leash no longer than six feet. In case you should try to use the dog ID to walk your other, unregulated dog that you didn't pay the $10 for, said pass bears a particular dog's description, because everyone knows you'd walk your dogs separately to save the $10 a year. And that's ten extra dollars, above and beyond the licensing fee, which is dependent upon proof of a rabies vaccination, and ten dollars more beyond that for non-neutered dogs. For your convenience, the city sends a fellow around to snoop in back yards near you to make sure all dogs are pre-approved.

Even with your licensed, vaccinated, neutered and park-passed pet, you'd better be out of the park before dusk. The government is protecting us all from those dangerous ducks in the pond that are apparently transformed into man-eaters (or dog-eaters) after dark. (If you're willing to take it up the tailpipe like this, maybe you really shouldn't be out after dark.) This isn't Central Park in Manhattan , it's a small town of under 12,000 in Michigan .

Yes, our small town has its very own police force. We even have our own bicycle patrol officer to prosecute pet rule violators who flagrantly walk dogs without passes. It seems there is no limit to how well our masters care for us.

Where I grew up, our tiny suburb had its own police force too. However, the cops never stopped us for walking down the street like they stop my kids now. We live in an affluent neighborhood well outside Detroit that has almost no crime, or didn't until this past year when the local economy went kaput. It's still what I would consider a very low crime area.

At 14, my son, who weighed probably 99 pounds at the time, went through a gothic phase'long black hair, big black pants. He had a mild case of it--no piercings or tattoos, but still apparently a very grave threat to a fearful society. It got him stopped regularly for simply walking down a neighborhood street in broad daylight. This is a town where you don't want to be caught driving while black, either, or you'll get pulled over for possessing a car which 'resembles one reported stolen.' I'm not making this up. It could be called, 'Stepford.'

One time our son made the grave mistake of trying to leave the library at 9 p.m. The librarian, a good little Eichmann, said she couldn't just let him leave, because minors aren't allowed out on the street alone at that time of night. She'd call the local cops, who would give him a free ride to the police station, where he could call his parents to come and pick him up. She called them, unlocked the door to wait out there with him and as soon as she did, he waved at her, said 'see ya,' and disappeared into the night. He never made the mistake of staying at the library after 8:50 again. See, children are learning all the time!

Why not just completely emasculate our sons? Why not just castrate them all at birth? We could eliminate crimes like jaywalking and rape in our lifetime before they even get started! It would save all those years of effort by low I.Q. schoolteachers to turn little boys into little girls, as Fred Reed says. Yes, little girls, all nice and conforming-like. Our sons can get a head start on becoming metrosexual. Nice is a four-letter word, isn't it? One relied upon by polite society, so that the powers that be can keep sticking it to average taxpayers to keep them towing the line and coughing up the tax revenues. In another culture it might be referred to as 'bow, bitches!' which isn't at all 'nice,' but is at least straightforward.

My husband is one of the least confrontational people I know, but a number of times he, after hearing that our son had been patted down and questioned for walking around in the middle of the day, more than once headed for the door to do something about it. With his hand on the doorknob, he declared his intention of going down to the police station to give them a piece of his mind. After all, we'd lived here and paid high property taxes for years. These moments always ended with our son's pleas that any confrontation would make him more of a target in the future, which was only too true. Those were the only magic words that could stop my husband in his tracks. Now we just want out of the city life.

Nowadays there's a bureaucracy for everything; unimaginable a generation ago. Property taxes keep escalating to cover the benefits and pensions of all those additional paper pushers and police. Luxuries we, like many Americans, can never hope to achieve for ourselves, what with all those taxes breathing down our necks, even though the bureaucracies are all here 'for our benefit!'

We can't afford any more help

Orange alert has come to small town America , and ' surprise - it doesn't have brown skin. It's not the African Americans driving down from Pontiac , it's not the Mexicans coming up across the Rio Grande , it isn't the Muslims fighting back at U.S. invaders. It is our own image staring back at us in the mirror.

They have found the underbelly of our vulnerability, fear of the unknown. Our ability to deal with the unknown has been educated, regulated and organized right out of us. Now we're 'nice,' but we're also afraid, and fearful people do stupid things, like kowtow to bullies.

The ravenous predator that is government preys upon our collective fear. They point fingers at danger, make more laws for us in the name of eliminating those dangers, putting us in jeopardy. They take our guns to keep us safe, putting us in even graver danger. They ratchet up our fears and play off of them like professional criminals. They use it to grab more money and power for themselves, even though they are truly impotent, ignorant and evil, torture-loving, feral scoundrels.

Governments raise our collective paranoia to dizzying heights by broadening danger, eliminating hope that we will ever be free of it, guaranteeing the continuation of their reign of terror. If we wait for government to somehow make us safe and free, then no, that day will never come. The Founding Fathers knew this 200 years ago and so placed their lives, their fortunes and their sacred honor in harm's way. We must do the same, as security is an illusion and freedom is completely up to us. There's nothing else like it.

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Retta Fontana's picture
Columns on STR: 53

Retta Fontana is an atheist, anarchist, baker, potter and parenting teacher.  Children are her favorite people.